On having a hobby… Or not

After a surprisingly inspiring chat yesterday with J, I realised that I had been neglecting my blog quite horribly while dealing with the day-to-day dramas (Tom! Katie! OMG!), and not really making time for doing the things that make me happy – or, more importantly, things that will help me to better myself.

Added to that, the fact that T started ragging on me for “not having a hobby” (Which, J clarified, probably meant that I don’t do enough outdoorsy, sporty stuff), and I’m on a fresh wave of a desire for self-improvement and happiness.

(Of course, this has been slightly dented by the lack of network connection at the office. But, on the plus side: my desk is clean, my desktop has been reorganised, I’ve had two cups of coffee and I’ve beaten my record on Minesweeper. Booyah.)

Going back to the Hobbies Thing (it’s a thing now)… When I asked T what qualifies as a hobby, his response was “Something you love doing”. Therefore, I consider watching movies a hobby. (Which apparently it’s not, because it needs to be sporty/outdoorsy – and no, for some bizarre reason, yoga doesn’t count either. I’m confused too, don’t worry. I’m prepared to accept that drinking wine is not a hobby.)

I’ve written before on how I love the ritual of going to the cinema – although I do prefer it when it’s quiet, and not a packed screening. I love the moments that the lights go dark and the anticipation begins. I love watching trailers and trying to figure out the movie they’re advertising as quickly as possible. I love sprinkling the salt onto my popcorn (only one sachet at Nu Metro – two is far too much; though I prefer Ster Kinekor’s popcorn flavouring) and I love the fact that movie soft drinks are always well watered-down. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Going to the movies is the closest thing to going to church that I’ll voluntarily experience.

Of course, a lot of my movie-going experiences fall under the banner of “work” – and while I love writing on movies, it does get quite difficult to hash out reviews week after week. Especially because the audience that I usually write for isn’t really interested in the intricacies of the film – they just want to know if the product is good, if the actors are good (are there any “big name” actors?)… Really, will the R50 they drop on a movie ticket be worth it. Are they interested in the cinematography, the lighting, the colour pallet, the direction? Sadly, not. I try to sneak it in where I can, but I’ve had to rein myself in – seeing as I went through phases of writing movie reviews clocking in at the 1800-word mark.

What is cool is that I’ve now gathered a small group of people that I know are always reading the reviews – which is inspiring. It’s always good to know that there are people taking the time to read the entire review, rather than just clicking in to see the rating before clicking out. (And it does mean I often sneak in something completely random for fun!)

But, at the end of the day, I love this. I love talking about films, pulling out random trivia and being a reference guide for my friends. (Although I do quite often get: “So what’s showing at the movies?” – as if I’ve memorised all the cinema schedules for Cape Town.)

My point is – and to quote Ellen Degeneres, I do have one – is that with the amount of time, love and energy I pour into movies: They’re a hobby.

Though I do have grand plans to take up knitting or something, too. I hear it’s quite soothing.

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Day Twenty-Eight – #30DayBlogChallenge

Day 28 – Your favourite movie.

I am sure that I shock exactly no one when I say that I have no favourite movie.

I have a list of about 40 that I love , but only a few hands-down favourites.

Stardust, starring Charlie Cox and Claire Danes and based on the novel by Neil Gaiman. I love how rich and textured this film is. Simply saturated with beauty and magic.

Titanic , James Cameron’s epic still remains one of my favourites. Watch it now that you’re a little older, and watch it carefully. It’s immense. You all can keep Avatar, thanks.

Saving Private Ryan: The first twenty-odd minutes of Steven Spielberg’s war epic have to be some of my favourite scenes of all time. Absolutely harrowing, incredibly filmed.

Forrest Gump. Really, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love this movie. I cry every time.

Grease. It’s cheesy, I know. But it’s one of my go-to films when I’m feeling down.

Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s iconic. I could watch it half a million times over.

Moulin Rouge! I haven’t seen it in years, but I love Baz Luhrmann’s style and adore the choreography and the music.

Chicago Love the attitude, the sex appeal, the performances, the casting. Everything. This is probably high up on the list of favourites, ever.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I can pretty much recite all three films. That’s how many times I’ve watched, and how much I still love.

Disney films, in general.

The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fight Club…. I’m a David Fincher fan girl.

Inglourious Basterds. No explanation needed, I feel.

Racing to Oscar

It’s always fun trying to predict who will take the Academy Awards when you haven’t seen most of the films.

Not for lack of trying, of course. It’s just that movies get released a little later here in South Africa than they do everywhere else. For example, The Muppets only releases this Friday. That is, 27 January. We’ve still not got The Artist. Or Hugo. I’ve seen The Descendants and My Week With Marilyn, largely because I’m a journalist. But you get the picture. Most of it is tracking the trends through the rest of the Awards Season. Golden Globes? Surprisingly inaccurate in terms of predicting the Oscars… At least recently.

So we take a look at the Other Awards. The Guild Awards (Producers, Directors and Writers – most of them double up as Oscar voters) and the loose ends – the Critics Choice, the SAG Awards… So far, I can tell you, that nobody has come close to touching The Artist.

But in the interests of fun, I’m going to make Oscar predictions each week before the Oscars. My picks may change as the weeks go by, depending on how the other ceremonies go. Also, I suppose, on the actual nominations – which are being announced on 24 January (by one of my current big-screen crushes, Jennifer Lawrence).

I will only be picking in the “major” categories – Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress, Director and, for fun, Animated Feature.

* Disclaimer: These are early days, and I still haven’t seen half of the films.  

Week 1 – 22 January

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady (although I would love for Michelle Williams to get this for My Week With Marilyn, she was breath-taking)
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer – The Help
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist (Just beating Martin Scorsese for Hugo)
Best Animated Feature: The Adventures of Tintin

My can’t-wait-for movies for 2012

The Hobbit

Right, you know me. I love movies in almost all shapes and sizes. I review movies for part of my living (I reviewed 65 last year).

Last year was pretty lean in terms of movies that I was desperate to see… 2012 is a whole different kettle of fish. I prepped an article for work on the same topic, but this is my must-see list. And mine only.

I’ve already seen two of the movies I was most keen for – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (If you haven’t seen it yet, go right now. Like now. Bookmark this page and go the movies – you can read it when you get back) and The Muppets (which I saw last year but only releases on 27 January here in SA).

Read on for my must-see movies of 2012…

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A brief rant on movie critics (myself included)

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens

So I started this rant in my weekly work newsletter, but that’s limited to around 250 words before the white space becomes unbearable, and so I had to rein it in a little. And you know by now that I’m no good at reining things in. So I’m copy-pasting my newsletter column in here, then expanding the rant.

Basically, I needed to have a rant about movie critics. And I count myself quite firmly in the group – seeing as, so far this year, I have written reviews for over 40 films and seen a lot more. Some got lost in the vortex that is created when watching four films a week, trying to survive a rather manic personal life and still oh, I don’t know, run a site. (It’s only going to get more hectic in the next few weeks, stay tuned for details!)

One of the films that I saw last week was Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens. And the reaction – from South African movie critics that consider themselves the next Roger Ebert – sparked a rant that had been coming for some time.

For the most part, the critics panned Cowboys & Aliens. Fair enough – it’s not True Grit or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or 127 Hour or Black Swan or even freaking The Lion King. But for what it is, I think Cowboys & Aliens is a good film. Now before you poke me with a spoon, this post is not about whether or not it’s a good movie or not. Bear with me.

Let’s be honest, the average moviegoer won’t go to a movie called Cowboys & Aliens expecting a cinematic masterpiece. We’ll never compare a movie about aliens invading a Western town to the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech – so why critics continue to hold popcorn-munching blockbusters to the same standards as award-winning dramas is beyond me.

Most people take blockbusters for what they are – mindless escapism, an evening out on the town away from the kids or the stresses of your day-job and a chance to revel in silliness. Critics need to look at blockbusters and ask the question – is this a good blockbuster? For what it is – is it well-made? Is it a cleverly written romantic comedy? Are the giant explosions properly executed? Cowboys & Aliens will never win the Oscar for Best Picture – but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. Critics – myself included – need to stop being pretentious for just one second, and deal with the fact that criticising the new Transformers movie using the same criteria or having the same expectations as we do when revewing The Hurt Locker is just silly.

Only then will reviews be any use to the average viewer – who just wants to know that his rom-com is going to be better or worse than the last one he rented out.

Read my Cowboys & Aliens review here and see if you agree with me.

Haul out the holy water for the first Afrikaans vampire film…

You know, I thought we’d have been done with one vampire movie out of South Africa in a 12-month cycle. (Everybody remember Eternity?) But no, there’s another local vampire film – and this one’s in Afrikaans.*

From the two teaser clips posted so far, this film actually looks like it could be pretty cool. You know, in a completely over-the-top, insane kinda way. Lots of blood and gore (I’m unlikely to look at Francois van Coke in the same way ever again). Plus, Rob van Vuuren in a vampire film? Genius. I’m sold. It’s supposed to be pretty rock ‘n roll, really gritty… Bring it on. (Just for the love of all things, please sub-edit your subtitles so that there aren’t glaring spelling/grammar errors like another South African movie I watched recently…!)

Anyway, the coolest thing about Bloedsuiers (that’s the working title, apparently) is not its storyline or its cast. What interests me the most is its plan for funding… They’re working on an idea gaining momentum in the US and Europe called “crowd funding”. And yes, it’s actually exactly what it sounds like.

Basically, fans (potential fans?) pledge an amount to donate to production. In the case of Bloedsuiers it can be as little as R30 (that’s a little over $4 for my American readers) – although I’m sure the larger the better. Obviously the producers aren’t relying only on the generosity of the fans (and with the Budget announced today, I’m feeling distinctly ungenerous and financially very jumpy) and will also be seeking private funding – but it’s a cool concept. Fans who donate will be rewarded with exclusive content and merchandise opportunities – so there’s more incentive than just being able to claim that you helped finance a movie. (And I would totally claim that).

* Anybody else waiting for an SABC version of True Blood? You know that’s next on the list, right?

Reviewed: 127 Hours

127 Hours

James Franco as Aron Ralston in "127 Hours".

Originally published on iafrica.com

Much like 2003’s Phone Booth, the strength in 127 Hours lies in the intensity of its star’s performance. And James Franco’s performance will go down as one of the greatest of a generation.

The film – helmed by Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle – is based on the remarkable true story of Aron Ralston, an avid hiker and mountain climber who becomes trapped underneath a boulder while on a solo hiking expedition in a Utah canyon. To free himself, he amputates his arm using a blunt Leatherman knockoff, still managing to hike around eight miles before he’s finally rescued.

The beauty of this film is not in the plot. Ralston’s story is well-known and the film itself is based on Ralston’s autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place. But Boyle manages to take an almost legendary story and film it in such a way that even though you know he’s going to be okay, your heart is in your mouth for most of the film. It’s terrifying, awe-inspiring and a truly intense experience.

Even though the majority of 127 Hours is filmed in a cramped, dusty space, Boyle manages to keep the film moving at a rollicking pace. The movie starts imbued with a sense of pure joy – Ralston loves what he does, and he’s such a frequent hiker he doesn’t even bother to tell anybody where he’s going anymore. He runs into two female hikers and leads them on a side-trip to a massive waterhole, before jogging back over the mountains on his way. “I don’t think we figured in his day at all,” they quip – and it’s true.

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